June 6, 2024 

Karlie and Katie Lou Samuelson prepare for sister showdown

The Samuelsons will go head-to-head on Friday, when Washington hosts Indiana

Entering 2024, Indiana Fever wing Katie Lou Samuelson and Washington Mystics wing Karlie Samuelson had played a combined nine seasons in the WNBA for five different franchises. Yet the sisters and elite shooters have only faced each other twice in their careers ahead of Friday’s matchup in Washington, with younger sister Katie Lou winning both times.

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“I’m excited to see her, to play her,” Katie Lou told The Next. “… I’m gonna try to use my knowledge of playing against her to … my advantage.”

“I don’t particularly like it,” Karlie told The Next. “… I’m someone that wants her to do really well and she wants the same for me, so it’s not the most fun, I will say that, but … you’re a professional at that point.”

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Their previous two clashes came in a four-day span in July 2021, when Karlie was with the Los Angeles Sparks and Katie Lou was with the Seattle Storm. They each started both games, and Karlie averaged six points and Katie Lou two in those matchups.

On Friday, both sisters are expected to play key roles. They’ve weathered plenty of ups and downs in their professional careers, but they found stability at the same time this offseason.

“It’s going to be a good show,” Mystics forward Aaliyah Edwards told The Next about the battle between the Samuelsons. “… I know the love’s there, but I feel like when they touch the court, they might put that to the side.”

Indiana Fever wing Katie Lou Samuelson and forward/center Aliyah Boston stand in the lane and high-five guard Caitlin Clark, who is at the free-throw line. Guard Grace Berger is behind Clark waiting to congratulate her.
Indiana Fever wing Katie Lou Samuelson (bottom) and forward/center Aliyah Boston (7) high-five guard Caitlin Clark (22) at the free-throw line during a game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 14, 2024. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

Katie Lou entered the WNBA in 2019 as a lottery pick, going fourth overall to the Chicago Sky out of UConn. But she played just one season in Chicago before being traded three times in three years. She sat out last season while pregnant with her daughter Aliya — and her team at the time, the Sparks, ended up signing Karlie as her replacement.

This offseason, Katie Lou got to choose her destination in free agency for the first time and went to Indiana on a two-year protected contract. She said she is still working her way back physically and has had to be patient with herself.

“I’m trying to give myself grace every day to just get a little bit better,” she said. “I think I put a lot of pressure on myself at first to be where I was before, and that’s been a journey in itself to get to this point. … I’m trying to make a little progress and then will continue to push myself.”

Katie Lou has started five of Indiana’s 11 games this season and is averaging 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 18.7 minutes per game. Most of her points have come from behind the 3-point line, where she is shooting a career-high 38.5%.

“She’s been a veteran presence for us, which is huge,” Fever head coach Christie Sides told reporters on Wednesday. “Katie Lou had a baby 10 months ago. Ten months ago! So she’s trying to … figure it out again. … She’s just trying to be consistent, and she’s putting in the extra work that needs to be done to help herself get back.”

SeasonKarlie Samuelson’s Teams (Games Played)Katie Lou Samuelson’s Teams (Games Played)
2018Los Angeles Sparks (20)
2019Los Angeles Sparks (3), Dallas Wings (4)Chicago Sky (20)
2020Dallas Wings (22)
2021Los Angeles Sparks (11), Seattle Storm (3)Seattle Storm (27)
2022Phoenix Mercury (1)Los Angeles Sparks (32)
2023Los Angeles Sparks (34)
2024Washington Mystics (9)Indiana Fever (11)
Bold indicates team affiliations when the sisters got to play against each other. They also got to play with each other briefly with Seattle in 2021. Games include the regular season only.

Karlie, who is two years older than Katie Lou, had a less traditional path to the WNBA. She went undrafted out of Stanford in 2017, but she improbably hung around the league, signing 12 seven-day, hardship or rest-of-season contracts between 2018 and 2023. Like Katie Lou, Karlie got a two-year protected contract this offseason, making this season the first time she didn’t have to worry about roster cuts.

“Training camp was definitely different. I actually unpacked my bags,” Karlie said. “And I could settle in and really focus on building with the team. So that was a nice sense of security.”

Mystics guard Brittney Sykes played with both Samuelsons in Los Angeles before coming to Washington in 2023. When Sykes spoke with head coach Eric Thibault this winter about the Mystics’ strategy in free agency, she was thrilled to hear that Karlie was a target.

“I’m like, ‘For real? Yeah, say less!’” Sykes told The Next. “So I was all for it. … Kudos to Karl for sticking through it to find that type of home that she’s been looking for. She’s been great on every team that she’s went to. And now she gets to be great with us and stay with us.”

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Karlie has started all nine games for the Mystics this season and is averaging 9.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 29.0 minutes per game. All of those averages except for rebounds are career highs, and she is also shooting 35.6% from 3-point range.

In the season opener on May 14, Karlie struggled with her shot, including seeing her first 3-pointer go in and out. She was frustrated, but Thibault wasn’t concerned, telling her that her shot was “about the 1,000th thing on my list that I’m worried about.” Sure enough, Karlie hit her stride in the next game with a career-high 18 points on 4-for-5 3-point shooting.

“Shooters [are] always in the right spot. … It’s a gift that only shooters have, and Karlie has that,” point guard Julie Vanloo told reporters after that game on May 17. “… I love playing with her.”

As a result, Karlie is near the top of some opponents’ scouting reports this season. In her homecoming in Los Angeles on May 21, for example, Sparks guard Lexie Brown told reporters postgame that the game plan was to limit Karlie and guard Ariel Atkins, even if it meant that Washington’s forwards would get some open looks.

Karlie has been particularly lethal early in games: She is making 54.5% of her shots in first quarters, including 9-for-12 shooting on 3-pointers. That forces teams to focus even more intently on her, which creates more space for her teammates.

Washington Mystics wing Karlie Samuelson pumps both fists, leans forward and screams in celebration.
Washington Mystics wing Karlie Samuelson (44) celebrates during a game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 17, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

While teams are keenly aware of Karlie’s shooting, she has also shown much more than that for Washington. Thibault told reporters recently that her all-around game, including her basketball IQ and her defense on the wing, might be better than he’d realized in free agency.

Edwards added, “We always need that threat on the 3-point line, but she’s also getting into the lane, creating opportunities for her teammates and not only being a one-dimensional player, which I love about Karlie. And I think that she adds a lot to our team.”

Karlie and Katie Lou talk every day — including during free agency last winter, when both were figuring out their next steps after their contracts with the Sparks had expired. They would’ve loved to play together, as they had for two winters in Spain and briefly with Seattle in 2021. But their priority was finding places that fit them individually and sticking in the league.

During the WNBA season, they text often and watch each other’s games whenever they’re not playing at the same time. “She always — on the bus, traveling — [is] always watching her sister,” Edwards said of Karlie.

In their basketball conversations, “We give advice, but it’s mostly just support,” Karlie said. “It’s just hearing, ‘It’s a long season. Everyone goes through ups and downs.’ Anything she’s feeling, she knows that I can relate to, and same thing me to her. So it’s super nice to have somebody that’s going through literally the exact same thing.”

Washington Mystics wing Karlie Samuelson dribbles the ball with her left hand and looks upcourt.
Washington Mystics wing Karlie Samuelson (44) handles the ball during a game against the Atlanta Dream at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on May 29, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Right now, both Samuelsons are often feeling the sting of losing, as their teams occupy the bottom two spots in the WNBA standings. Indiana is 2-9 after playing two more games than any other team in the first 20 days of the season. Washington is 0-9, the worst start in franchise history, despite being competitive in most of its games.

“I think we are very much understanding of each other’s situations and just kind of give some positive feedback on it,” Katie Lou said. “… Both [teams] are just trying to figure it out. Everything’s easier when you’re winning.”

But the season has still been rewarding for both players, with Katie Lou regaining her rhythm after her pregnancy and Karlie taking on a bigger role in Washington. Katie Lou has felt the support from the Fever as she balances motherhood and basketball for the first time, and Aliya is thriving being around the team.

“She loves the basketball court,” Katie Lou said. “She gets super excited when we get out there. … She’s a big people watcher, so she loves to watch everyone run around.”

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Aliya may be asleep for Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game between her mom and her aunt, but she’ll hear lots of stories as she gets older about Katie Lou’s and Karlie’s careers. She’ll hear how they fought to get to this point, where they’re sure of their places in the WNBA and have earned the stability to face each other more regularly. (Washington and Indiana will play three more times this season alone, including a rematch in Indiana on June 19 that the Samuelson family will attend.)

“I just can appreciate from Lou and from Karl their tenacity to just do the work,” Sykes said. “Karlie’s … gonna try her hardest. Lou’s gonna do the same thing. …

“I’m happy for both of them that they get to have that type of certainty every day just to go in and just know like, I’m good.”

The Next’s Tony East and Cameron Ruby contributed reporting for this story.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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